While the starting pitching was one of the Cubs greatest strengths this past season, it seemed like the bullpen was the main weakness. With an overall record of 103-58-1, it’s hard to fathom there were very many rough patches but when there was, it seemed like a bullpen meltdown was usually the cause. Overall, 21 pitchers were used in relief and they combined for a 22-19 record, 38 saves, 3.56 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 519 strikeouts in 470.2 innings.
Travis Wood ended up leading the bullpen in appearances with 77 and his season exemplified the position. On the surface, he had quality numbers pitching to a 4-0 record, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP with 47 strikeouts in 61 innings. He was outstanding against lefties stifling them to a .128 average against versus a .265 average against righties. He did struggle with consistency at times and a heavy workload likely contributed. Through the first three months of the season, Wood pitched to a 2.22 ERA, but stumbled after that during July and August to a 5.06 ERA and finished the year without giving up a run in the month of September. Wood filed for free agency after the season and it seems with the Cubs having younger and more controllable options at the left handed reliever spot, he will likely sign elsewhere.
Second to Wood in appearances with 68 was Justin Grimm who also had a very up and down season. He finished the year with a 2-1 record, 4.10 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 65 strikeouts in 52.2 innings. After an outstanding season the year before, manager Joe Maddon had come to rely on Grimm as his go-to pitcher in tough situations. However, it seemed like Grimm did the opposite this past season and gave up too many big hits. In June he was absolutely abysmal giving up 15 hits and 10 earned runs in 8.2 innings and ended up being sent to the minors twice during the year. With 203 appearances over the past three seasons and Grimm returning again as an important member of the bullpen next year, the key may be to keep him fresh to stay effective.
Since being acquired with Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop has been one of the key members of the Cubs bullpen. Last season, he made 54 appearances, had a 2-2 record, 2.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and struck out 60 batters in 47.1 innings. A knee injury suffered in August kept him out for six weeks and robbed the team of utilizing a three-headed bullpen monster at the end of games with Strop, Rondon and Chapman to shut down opposing teams. Strop is under control for one more season and will serve in either the seventh or eighth inning setup man next year.
Hector Rondon also figures heavily in the bullpen plans for next year and showed himself to be the ultimate team player by not complaining after being displaced from the closer role by Aroldis Chapman. He pitched in 54 games, amassing 18 saves, a 3.53 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and striking out 58 batters in 51 innings. A strained forearm clearly affected him in August and sent him to the disabled list. He probably came back before he was ready because of the playoffs and the final two months sunk his final numbers. In the first four months, before the injury, he pitched to a 1.74 ERA, but stunk after he returned from the DL, posting an 11.17 ERA. With the team’s closing plans still up in the air, Rondon has a good chance to return as the team’s closer.
Speaking of closers, the team spent big on acquiring one and picked up Aroldis Chapman July 25. The front office gave up RHP Adam Warren and three prospects including SS Gleyber Torres, OF Billy McKinney and OF Rashad Crawford. Chapman gave Maddon an elite closer and a bullpen weapon to be truly feared. He racked up 28 appearances with the Cubs, saved 16 games, had a miniscule 1.01 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. Chapman struck out 46 batters in 26.2 innings. In the playoffs, he became a workhorse as Maddon’s lone reliever he could trust. Chapman had mixed results. He made 13 appearances and had four saves with a 3.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 21 strikeouts 15.2 innings, but gave up runs at key times. He almost blew Game 7 of The World Series when overused, but thanks to his teammates was bailed out. Chapman is now a free agent and will likely command the richest deal in history for a reliever, but don’t expect the Cubs to be the ones to make it.
Besides Rondon, another possible replacement for Chapman is Carl Edwards Jr. He was called up to the team at the end of June and notched two saves giving Chapman a break during the regular season. The young pitcher has always had a lot of potential and showed it in his 36 regular season appearances. He was 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with 52 strikeouts in 36 innings. He was prone to big innings at times giving up two earned runs or more in three of his games. He’ll likely fill a role similar to Grimm next year.
Like Chapman, Trevor Cahill and Joe Smith also played a big role for the club in the bullpen and will likely depart as free agents. Cahill pitched in 49 games out of the bullpen and missed over a month with a knee issue. He served as the team’s favorite long man pitching one or more innings in 16 of his appearances. He posted a 2.97 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 60.2 innings. He’ll likely look for a chance to start as a weak free agent class could give him a shot doing it. Smith was acquired on Aug. 1 and spent some time on the DL with a hamstring issue. His sidearm delivery brought a new dynamic to the bullpen. It helped him cruise to a tidy 2.51 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
Other notable names who likely will fight for jobs in next year’s pen are Mike Montgomery, Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena. Zastryzny and Montgomery are currently in the mix for the fifth starter job with Montgomery considered the favorite at this point. Montgomery was obtained from the Seattle Mariners on July 20 for RHP Paul Blackburn and 1B Dan Vogelbach. Montgomery had a rough time in the beginning, but settled in nicely and ended with a 1.93 ERA in 11 appearances. He also saved Game 7 of The World Series. Zastryzny pitched in just seven games, but racked up 13 strikeouts in 12.1 innings and posted a 1.46 ERA. Pena is the least likely of the three to earn a job thanks to his 4.00 ERA, but he did strike out 13 batters in nine innings.
Five other pitchers in Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren, Joel Peralta and Joe Nathan were jettisoned for more effective talent during the season and further illustrate the issues the bullpen had last year. Ramirez was designated for assignment after not showing the same velocity and giving up four earned runs and eight walks in 7.2 innings. Richard was also sent packing after his terrible 6.43 ERA in 25 appearances caused him to be released in August. Warren didn’t fare much better than Richard as a 6.60 ERA in 30 appearances had him returned to the Yankees when the Cubs acquired Chapman. Peralta and Nathan were added as veteran pieces to stabilize a struggling bullpen, but instead combined for a 6.00 ERA in six appearances.
With five to six bullpens slots already set, it has been reported that the Cubs front office has been targeting names like Greg Holland, Daniel Hudson, Boone Logan and Kenley Jansen to help fill some of the holes left by their departing free agents.
Holland and Hudson fit the low risk/high reward mold that the front office has used in the past. Names like Jason Motte, Trevor Cahill, Pedro Strop and Kevin Gregg are good examples of players with injury troubles or mechanical flaws that the team thinks they can adjust to bring their games to the next level. Holland was one of the more dominating closers over the past four years for the Kansas City Royals, but a Tommy John surgery felled him for all of last year. In his career, he has an 18-12 record, 145 saves, 2.42 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 430 strikeouts in 319.2 innings. In a recent showcase, Holland’s velocity was in the low-90s well below his customary 96 mph, but for the right amount of money could be a nice gamble for a team looking for a lights out closer.
Hudson switched to relief over the last two years thanks to two Tommy John surgeries, but had a tough year last season. In 70 appearances, he notched five saves, with a 3-2 record, 5.22 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. He seemed to figure something out in September as he posted a 1.54 ERA in 12 games. Perhaps pitching coach Chris Bosio has the key to Hudson finally achieving his potential and likely be had for cheap.
Logan was a pitcher the team was linked to around the trade deadline and could be a nice replacement for Travis Wood if the team opts for Montgomery to pitch in the rotation. In 66 games, Logan was 2-5 with one save, 3.69 ERA in hitter friendly Coors Field, 1.01 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He gave up an outstanding .142 average against lefties and .211 against righties.
Jansen hasn’t been heavily linked to the Cubs, but there have been reports of the front office doing their due diligence on the dominant reliever. Like Chapman, Jansen isn’t going to be cheap, but he would give the club a lights out reliever to headline their bullpen. Last season, Jansen racked up 71 appearances, a 3-2 record, 47 saves, 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and a whopping 104 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. At 29, he might be worth the gamble of a four-year deal.
Cubs 2016 Position Reviews
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- Starting Rotation
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